Working in Bali in the late 1930s, anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead made an extraordinary advance in the understanding of human performance. They observed bodily practices constituting processes of signification that resembled linguistic communication far more closely than had ever been suspected. The Mead/Bateson theory of human performance prefigured research in performance studies that has only recently begun to challenge poststructural convictions regarding the ephemerality of symbolic action. Essential to Mead and Bateson's achievement was their pioneering use of film. Equally vital, however, was their construction of Bali as a place, phenomenologically speaking. The Bali in which Mead and Bateson lived and worked was a cosmopolitan yet excessively localized product of their own design, to an extent contemporary perspectives find highly problematic. Nonetheless, the actual complexities of Balinese history and culture can be seen to have intervened into their collaborative process in ways that enabled pathbreaking insights.
When I said I was going to Bali, you said: “If I were going to Bali, I would study gesture.” And that is one of the things we have tried to do.
—Letter to Franz Boas from Margaret Mead upon leaving Bali on board the M. V. Maatsuycker, passing through Torres Strait, March 29, 1938
An extraordinary advance in the anthropological understanding of human performance occurred in Bali in the late 1930s, when cultural anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead spent two years living among Balinese families and experimenting with an original, visually oriented approach to the study of culture. As Mead's letter to her mentor, Franz Boas, indicates, Mead was led to think of Bali as a place where gesture merited careful observation. In this regard, she and Bateson developed an entirely new ethnographic technology to do it justice. The approach entailed the extensive use of both photographic and cinematic technology, and it is recognized today as pioneering in visual anthropology (Birdwhistell 1977; Grimshaw 2001; Jacknis 1988, 160; Sullivan 1999, 1). Much less well appreciated, however, is the achievement by Mead and Bateson of a kind of high point in the anthropological theory of choreographic symbolism.1
During their Balinese work, Mead and Bateson articulated a perspective on the meaning-making capabilities of human body movement that no one of their generation, or the generation following them, came anywhere near. The couple observed movement practices as capable of conveying abstract forms of intelligence previously assumed to depend upon the constructions of linguistic syntax alone. In so doing, they enlarged exponentially the conceptual framework applicable to the study of symbolic action, adding to it a new semantic dimension that illuminated relationships between the “verbal” and the “nonverbal” with a degree of subtlety previously unimaginable. The theory Mead and Bateson articulated—or rough equivalents of it—is only very recently being visited in the field of performance studies, as well as in anthropological research. Scholars have just begun to consider the capacity of bodily performance for configuring symbolic processes such as inscription, conceptualization, abstraction, and related forms of generalization that will enable a fundamental revision and reassessment of the relationships symbolic action can maintain with language, with cultural forms of subjectivity, and with the practice of everyday life, even in its most practical domains.2 The high point of the Mead/Bateson collaboration in Bali prefigured this contemporary interest of performance theory in a way that is as remarkable as it is puzzling, given the seemingly unwitting manner in which it was formulated and argued.
It is this neglected high point, and the significance of its production in the “place,” phenomenologically conceived, that Bali was for Mead and Bateson that forms the subject of this essay. The motivating question here is how, precisely, Bali was instrumental to Bateson and Mead in their performance-oriented research. Could Bateson and Mead have made the advance in thinking about choreographic symbolism that they did anywhere but the Bali-located world that they cultivated for themselves through their anthropologically driven way of studying, experiencing, and interacting?
Bateson and Mead arrived on Bali heavily laden with a variety of theoretical baggage. Their methodological approach was conceived within universalist paradigms designed to support research in any geographic context. These factors notwithstanding, the lived experience of Bali as it actually unfolded appears to have shaped significantly not only Bateson and Mead's technological developments, but also, eventually, their most general theoretical arguments on human performance. In particular, the choreographic genres on which Mead and Bateson were led to focus exhibited precisely the type of highly rule-governed, technical structures that facilitated their theoretical breakthrough. In this respect, the Mead/Bateson collaboration foregrounds a complex interrelationship between method, theory, and place in anthropological practice—place both as it is preconceived and as it is, in fact, encountered—that is of general relevance to ethnographic inquiry. It seems evident in reviewing their field research and publications that the complexities of Balinese life intervened in the collaborative process in ways that enabled the anthropologists’ most pathbreaking insights.
The Mead/Bateson collaboration lasted roughly from 1936 until 1942. It can be seen as the integration of two highly place-specific schools of thought: those of Columbia and Cambridge universities. These two places, embedded in their respective New York City and English cultural landscapes, were to complicate significantly the multivocality of Bali in Mead and Bateson's imagination and experience.
The anthropologists first met in December 1932 while undertaking research in New Guinea. After spending the summers of 1933 and 1934 together, they were married in 1936 in Singapore while en route to Bali. Bateson, the son of the naturalist-geneticist William Bateson, was trained at Cambridge as both a natural scientist and a social anthropologist. He considered himself a product of the Cambridge structural-functionalist school of cultural analysis, as well as the intellectual heir to the biological work of his father.3 Mead was an American-born, American-educated student of Franz Boas, the leader of the Columbia anthropology faculty. She was trained in a strongly empirical, descriptivist approach—what became known, in no small part because of Mead's own work, as participant observation.4 Mead's particularistic work was to be given depth and explanatory power by Bateson's systemic orientation. Bateson's strongly societal focus was complicated and given methodological coherence by Mead's focus on individual experience and her outstanding organizational and documentary skills. It was, from an intellectual perspective, an extraordinarily complementary match.
For Bateson, who was thirty-one at the time of his arrival on Bali, the Balinese project followed one other major ethnographic research project focused on the Iatmul in New Guinea. For Mead, thirty-four, it followed a number of projects focused variously on several New Guinea cultural groups, on the Native American Omaha, and on Samoans. Mead had long since published the best-selling Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) and three other books on her New Guinea research.5 In both biographical and autobiographical accounts of the couple's planning process (Bowman-Kruhm 2003, 70; Mead 1977b, 153), the choice of Bali as a research site is reported to have been Mead's alone. Her well-established research career resulted in her taking the lead in this regard, as well as in the framing of the research problem and the methodology designed to implement it. Accounts report that Bali appeared to Mead to exhibit a predominance of trance performance, which Mead identified as a dissociative behavior related to schizophrenia—one of her own research interests. Accounts go on to specify that Mead had gained this understanding of Bali from former student, Jane Belo, who had worked in Bali for several years alongside her husband, musician Colin McPhee, producing films of Balinese ritual.6 Mead and Bateson's initial attraction to Bali is generally represented in these terms, as having developed through Mead's privileged access to the little-known, academically and artistically specialized work of a single junior, Bali-based colleague.
In addition to these biographical facts, however, it must also be remembered that Mead's selection of Bali had to have been influenced in a more general way by the popular understanding of Bali that had already at this time entered into New York cultural life, not to mention the global imagination. By 1936, Bali had gained international fame as a tourist destination for European and American intellectuals and artists. Its performance traditions had established an imagined presence in New York society through a number of highly publicized routes. The Balinese dancers who appeared in 1931 at the Paris Exposition Coloniale International had been given international media attention.7 Travelogue films such as Isle of Paradise (Trego 1932), Goona-goona/“Love Powder”(Roosevelt and Denis 1932), and particularly Henry de la Falaise's Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935), presented Balinese performance in exoticized, eroticized contexts to popular audiences as well.8 The art of Miguel Covarrubias, which depicted Balinese performers, was also being shown in New York galleries at this time. These representations generated a popular Orientalist awareness of Bali, at least among the intellectual circles of New York society, that Franz Boas had apparently articulated in some fashion to Mead in his comments about Balinese gesture. While no record has been made of either Boas's or Mead's reactions to such popular representations, it is virtually certain that both were well aware of the public image of Bali they served to define. Bali's cosmopolitan identity, while it was never to be directly acknowledged in Mead and Bateson's research publications, and, in fact, was at least indirectly obscured, nonetheless can be seen as a significant contextual factor. It endowed Bali with a symbolic force that went far beyond what other, genuinely unfamiliar localities might have had—something Mead, with her ambitions for international celebrity status, would have been only too ready to harness for her own purposes. Mead was drawn to Bali because it was a place already engaged in dialogue with her much-beloved New York City.
Popular culture's influence being what it might, Mead and Bateson's determination to work in Bali was, to use the most charitable terms employed to describe it, motivated mainly by “theoretical” interests (Jacknis 1988, 60; Mead 1977a, 178). The couple's scholarly knowledge of Balinese life was, by Mead's own estimation, “fragmentary” (1977b, 153). Mead's characterization of their preparation reads, “We had seen just enough material in films and still photographs, had heard just enough of the music studied by Colin McPhee, and read just enough in Jane Belo's careful records of the ceremonies with which the Balinese greeted the terrible disaster of the birth of twins to assure us that this was the culture we wanted to work on” (1972, 224). Given their limited background, it should come as no surprise that Bali—Mead's New Yorker intellectual rendering of it—emerged initially as a place exceptionally rich in culturally informative choreographic practices. This sense of place was one that the couple was to cultivate throughout their research experience.
In addition to Belo's films and New York City's popular culture, Mead and Bateson's preconceptions of Bali were shaped by another formative, truly academic, theoretical influence. This was the manuscript Patterns of Culture, by anthropologist Ruth Benedict. While in New Guinea, Mead, Bateson, and Reo Fortune—Mead's professional partner and husband at that time—had discussed the manuscript's theory of culture as “personality writ large” (Mead 1972, 206) at great length. The group had developed a typology of four cultural “temperaments” (Bowman-Kruhm 2003, 66) that became known as “the squares” (Mead 1972, 218; Sullivan 2004, 101). The typology included, sight unseen, one square posited for Balinese men and women. Balinese temperament was cast as a “fey” cultural type, in direct opposition to “Turk” Manus men and women and in contrast to Mundugumor and Arapesh temperament types as well. The labels referred to more than gestural contrasts; they were meant to suggest a holistic cultural style or way of life. Mead and Bateson never published any work on this temperament model. However, it acted as an a priori mold into which their experience in Bali was cast, affecting, and, some have argued, distorting significantly their interpretation of Balinese interactions.9
New Guinea research experiences were to have their own formative influence on Mead and Bateson's understanding of Bali as well. In 1938, at the completion of their initial two-year stay on Bali, the couple returned to the Sepik region of New Guinea for a period of six months to compare their observations of the Balinese with more closely parallel observations of New Guinea interactions.10 Mead later characterized the entire research experience as the “Bali-Iatmul field trip” (1977b, 153), permanently conjoining the two places in her memory. She commented in the letter to Boas cited earlier that she depended heavily on material from New Guinea when engaged in observation on Bali (1977b, 213).11 The extreme to which this was taken might well seem to border on the bizarre from an Asianist perspective. However, it was no accident that the Iatmul comparison loomed larger than any other featuring Hindu- or Buddhist-identified places in South or Southeast Asia. Such a Southeast Asianist areal view was, in Mead's opinion (1972, 232), invalid because it tended, in her reading, to construe Bali as a place of derived or “degraded” Hindu-Buddhist practice. Rather than accept what she and Bateson judged to be a diminutive and distorted view, the anthropologists chose to ignore such existing scholarship to a great extent. Neither, for example, ever learned Dutch (Howard 1984, 195; Jacknis 1988, 152), which at the time was the language in which the majority of work from this perspective had been written.
In addition to religiously focused comparative work, Mead and Bateson also omitted consideration of other key works in the extant ethnographic literature. They were apparently unaware of, or otherwise chose to ignore, the written work of Miguel Covarrubias, whose 1937 text Island of Bali contained extensive relevant ethnographic data (Jensen and Suryani 1992, 53). The work of V. E. Korn on the upland areas of Bali was also given no reference (Boon 1977, 228 n. 2). Instead, the anthropologists developed an understanding of Bali, “their” Bali, as a place largely unstudied, or, perhaps more accurate, as a place previously studied for purposes that were not relevant to their project.
In sum, Mead and Bateson endeavored to imagine and experience Bali as a distinct, original cultural “base” (Bateson and Mead 1942, xi–xii) comparable to indigenous centers around the world, those of the Sepik region of New Guinea foremost among them. It was, and remains, a controversial and seemingly unnecessary choice of perspective, one that arbitrarily excluded recognition of the Southeast Asian or broader Asian historical and cultural context. The knowledge Mead and Bateson sacrificed may well seem essential from many scholarly perspectives. Ironically, it may also have been critical for the advance in performance theory the couple was ultimately to achieve, as it served to focus their attention on forms of symbolic action that exhibited their quasi-linguistic patterning in highly localized domains of cultural practice.
The justification for omitting from consideration the scholarly work on Bali hung on one line of argument. The anthropologists characterized their research, and with good reason, as genuinely radical in one respect. They sought to develop a nonlinguistic means of studying culturally patterned behavior—culture “embodied,” as Mead and Bateson later termed it (1942, xii). The orientation was antiverbal, something that set the couple's work apart from any previously conducted on the island. Their methodology, they argued, had the benefit of preventing what were assumed to be distortions that linguistic symbolism would inevitably have imposed on their analysis. However unlikely it might seem from contemporary perspectives, Bateson and Mead believed they could achieve a direct perceptual line into the embodied organization of everyday and ritual life (Bateson and Mead 1942, xi–xii).12 Their challenge, in this regard, was to carry out research that would qualify as scientific, implementing a nonverbal means of inquiry that would be anthropologically legitimate. They achieved this through the novel, technologically driven documentary strategy of employing cameras as their central investigative tool. The utilization of cinematic and photographic technology justified the heretofore unimaginable, possibly romantic, academically uncharted, “nonverbal” orientation that Mead and Bateson espoused.
Once they actually arrived on Bali, Bateson and Mead found they were able to maintain an intensity of research that exceeded even their highest expectations. Intra-island transport was readily available, informed entrée to communities all over the island was immediately established by their network of colleagues, and the staggered schedule of Balinese ritual life was in normal operation, providing an ongoing calendar of performance events. Examples of Balinese ritual performance were viewed on a weekly, if not daily basis, and on occasion even more than once a day (Mead 1977, 156–214).13 The anthropologists delved into observation and recording with great energy (Jensen and Suryani 1992, 34; Lipset 1982, 153), seeking to identify connecting patterns of Balinese life. They divided their time between the mountain village of Bayung Gedé,14 where smaller-scale rituals and daily practices were observed; the interior town of Bangli, where observations were catalogued and organized; and Batuan, where they interacted with families of higher caste, as well as expatriate collaborators.
Despite the general conviction that Bali was, in fact, precisely the place they had imagined it to be, it was not long before unexpected realities began to impose themselves. Most important, their methodology, when adapted to the actualities of Balinese performance, began to produce an ever-mushrooming quantity of data. The volume soon exceeded all projections and forced the couple to modify substantially their working process.
Bateson was the main technician in the collaboration. He shot more than 25,000 still photographs and more than 22,000 feet of 16-millimeter film—many times the amount the team had originally expected to shoot.15 Mead reported (1972, 234; 1977, 155) that Bateson devoted a considerable amount of time to rolling and chemically readying the film that was to be used—skills Bateson acquired in Bali that became integral to his experience of place. Ritual performances were a prominent focus of Bateson's efforts. However, he filmed them along with countless instances of everyday interactions, focusing primarily on parent–child and sibling interactions.16
Mead, who had planned to focus on directing the filming and making written descriptions of its contents, also encountered unforeseen developments in her observational work. Aside from overseeing the implementation of what has since been called “film elicitation” (Jacknis 1988, 165),17 Mead concentrated on synchronizing her descriptive notes with Bateson's recordings. Here, she composed “running field notes” modeled after performance scripts.18 As her experience grew, Mead's techniques became more graphically detailed—more than she had imagined might ever be the case.
In these regards, Bali became “new territory” for Mead and Bateson. The ideal conditions for their data collection, the resources of the expatriate community, and the character of the practices they witnessed, combined with Bateson and Mead's own virtuosic efforts, produced descriptions of a type that the team believed had no anthropological corollaries (Mead 1972, 236; 1977, 155). Mead described the advance to Boas in 1938:
Where before I occasionally made a sample of behavior over time which would run to two typewritten pages for an hour, we now have records of 15 typewritten pages and 200 feet of Ciné and a couple of hundred Leica stills for the same period. The recording is so much finer that I feel as if I were working at different levels from any work I've done previously. (1977b, 213)19
Bateson, in a later article written for the volume Personality and the Behavior Disorders, published a set of observations that exemplified this “finer” level. He compared finger positions among Americans and Balinese, noting that the latter “leave their fingers in what appear to us to be distorted positions, as though each finger were a separate entity or a separate sense organ … the tendency to disharmonic finger postures, increases in the extreme excitement of rioting over the body at funerals” (1944a, cited in Lipset 1982, 153).
The accelerated tempo and volume of observational activity, in conjunction with a style of human body movement that lent itself to highly elaborated definition, produced a new sense of place for Mead and Bateson. While Belo's films had given them a carefully mediated glimpse of the island's ritual life, the on-site research compelled the anthropologists to take account of a much more complicated and challenging reality. Details of performances’ bodily conduct began to cohere into stylistic parameters. Bateson and Mead observed over and over again demonstrations of the same technical and choreographic principles at play. The undulating walk of Balinese women's ritual dance, the vibrating spatial constellations of dancers’ finger movements, the abruptly shifting patterns of eye and facial gestures, as well as numerous other aspects of performance technique, emerged as hallmark characteristics that would eventually reveal themselves to Bateson and Mead as forming a dynamic, constantly rebalancing template for the organization of many forms of social interaction. Bali became, in their experience, not simply a place of ritual practice, but a place of technically articulate behavior.
By the time their research came to an end, Mead reported to Boas (1977b, 212) that the accumulated mass of photographic material covered, systematically, a comprehensive array of both “everyday” and “stylized” activity for children and adult Balinese subjects from a variety of locations throughout the island. The latter category now included such practices as dancing, cockfighting, woodcarving, painting, and prayer and trance gestures found in rites of passage, calendrical ceremonies, and death and marriage ceremonies. In addition, they had collected about 1,000 carvings that further illustrated typical posture and gestural placements. Detailed descriptive notations—documentation at the “new” level, as Mead termed it—had been compiled by Mead, Bateson, and a team of three Balinese assistants. It was this latter material that evidenced what Mead later characterized as “a quantum leap” in descriptive analysis (1972, 223). It was the novel, unanticipated character of this evidence that compelled Mead and Bateson to return to New Guinea for additional research (Mead 1972, 136).
The extent to which the extraordinary quantity and quality of non–verbally focused work factored into Mead and Bateson's findings on Balinese life is not generally foregrounded in accounts of their collaboration.20 Accounts more often stress how their technical work reinforced conclusions Mead and Bateson had already formulated in discussions of Benedict's theories among others. With regard to their most general arguments, this perspective seems valid. Despite the plentiful evidence gained from their multisited research that Balinese life was extremely varied in terms of social status, occupation, and geographic location, Mead and Bateson remained convinced that such variations were superficial features of a single, island-wide way of life. At the end of their two-year stint, Mead wrote,
It has been customary to say that the mountain villages of Bali are almost completely different from the higher culture of the Plains, and yet on analysis the basic patterns turn out to be almost identical … So one of the things we hope to do is lay down the pattern of Balinese culture, in skeleton, in such a way that the differential flesh of the different caste and economic and locality variations may be put in relevantly. (1977b, 213–14)21
The influence of the Benedict-inspired models seems particularly strong in this general interpretive regard. Scholars have rightly questioned whether Bateson and Mead spent their time and energy on Bali actually investigating their hypothesis, or merely collecting evidence that would illustrate what they had prematurely decided was already the case.22
However, with regard to their thinking about human performance specifically—as opposed to “temperament,” or “character”—the observational and documentary work Bateson and Mead conducted on Bali deserves to be viewed in a different light. In this particular regard, their methodology appears to have forced the couple to defer any interpretation of the behavior they observed—psychoanalytic, structural-functionalist, Melanesian-contrasted, or otherwise—so as to continue analyzing it descriptively. It appears to have produced a degree of descriptive attunement never before attempted or achieved in ethnographic research. With regard to performance, the unplanned methodological innovations occurring improvisationally while in Bali appear to have overridden preconceived notions of how to analyze and observe human action and interaction.
The extenuation of the observational mode of working that Mead and Bateson achieved might well be seen, in and of itself, to have enabled new meanings of Balinese bodily practice to come to light. Bateson and Mead's visual strategy, in other words, validated by the cameras’ capability to preserve and store the activity witnessed, could be posited as having been solely responsible for their new understanding of choreographic symbolism. Method, on its own, may seem to have trumped theory. However, such an assessment leaves the distinctive place that Bali actually was in Mead and Bateson's experience unrecognized. This seems problematic, for reasons that the following discussion will seek to illuminate.23
The Balinese High Point
Turning now to the high point itself and its significance in performance theory and symbolic anthropology more generally,24 in an essay written in 1949, Bateson set forth his comparative understanding of the cultures of the Iatmul and the Balinese. The essay gives one of the most succinct and compelling summaries of the Mead/Bateson collaboration and will be used here to characterize the high point—albeit a distinctively Batesonian version of it (Mead 1977a, 178).
The essay begins with a discussion of why Bateson discarded some of the theoretical tools he had developed in his work with the Iatmul when he turned to Bali. In particular, the concept of schismogenesis—the regenerative “vicious” circle—did not appear suitable for the study of Balinese social life. Balinese cultural practice was alternatively structured, Bateson argued. Noncompetitive, nonmaximizing patterns of conduct—“steady states”—were described in cases of economic transactions, landmark usage, group membership values, village council policies on money transactions, abstract notions of right conduct or etiquette, and ritual activities. The essay drew examples from observations presented in Balinese Character (Bateson and Mead 1942).
Bateson then took a critical step in the formulation of his argument. He synthesized his theory of the Balinese steady state in terms of a corporeal “metaphor.” He identified the moving figure of a tightrope walker as exemplifying the pattern the Balinese employed to cope, in a “permissible” way (1972, 119), according to the Balinese concept of dadi, with the contingencies of daily life. “The individual Balinese,” Bateson reported, “is forever picking his way, like a tightrope walker, afraid at any moment lest he make some misstep” (1972, 120).25 He then argued—and it is here that his theory of performance began to take shape—that “[t]he metaphor from postural balance is demonstrably applicable in many contexts of Balinese culture” (1972, 120; emphasis added). The corporeal metaphor, in Bateson's observation, could be applied to domains of cultural life that were not always centered or dependent upon bodily practice. Among the domains identified were the fear of loss of support, posited by Mead and Bateson as a theme in Balinese childhood; the distinctive design of bodily postures and gestures seen in Balinese carvings; and, in some trance performance events, acts elevating the whole body of a performer, which were interpreted as representing expressions of respect. Again, photographic plates in Balinese Character were cited as illustrations.
Bateson closed his discussion with a more complex argument regarding the motile embodied source of the cultural pattern, writing, “In sum it seems that the Balinese extend to human relationships attitudes based upon bodily balance, and that they generalize the idea that motion is essential to balance” (1972, 125). The steady state that he identified as the Balinese cultural template was ultimately posited as emergent from bodily performance. Bateson observed it as fundamentally choreographic in character.
The theory articulated in this final quotation encapsulates the high point produced by the Mead/Bateson collaboration with regard to performance theory. It is decidedly Batesonian in its emphasis on a complex, systematic ‘idea,” as opposed to an affective relationship, which constitutes the core of the cultural pattern.26 It is highly unusual in comparison to the majority of anthropological work on choreographic symbolism at the time and hence forward.
To elaborate very briefly on its uniqueness, the Mead/Bateson theory of Balinese performance claims not only that bodily performance is the basis of a cultural template, but also that this basis is a structuring of intelligence of a particular kind. It is an intelligence that is relationship oriented and observed to have the capacity for extension into verbal as well as nonverbal, ethical and logical as well as aesthetic, and profane as well as sacred domains of cultural practice. The majority of work on choreographic symbolism in anthropology, both in Mead and Bateson's time and since, has proposed a markedly different view. It has opted to take what pragmatic semiotic theory would categorize as either an iconic or an indexical view. In the former case, the meaning of choreographic symbolism has been recognized in terms of its ability to mimic or produce likenesses to intended referents. In the latter, indexical case, it is understood to signal information about the performance context.27
In marked contrast to such theories, the Mead/Bateson theory understood the role of choreographic performance to be one of designing generalizable intelligence. Moreover, the intelligence emerging from it was not one of simple ideas or single concepts, but something loosely akin to the designs of complex propositional logic—intelligence that addressed itself to the possibility that certain aspects of certain kinds of relationships might be shown to be valid in specific ways. Bateson was quite explicit on this point. He placed great weight on the difference between forms of understanding that were atomistic, based on the sequential comprehension of single entities, and forms of understanding that were systemic and organized through the comprehension of relationships between multiple elements. In the Balinese case, he argued for a continuity of understanding with regard to certain culturally pivotal relationships that were emergent from the performance of embodied practice. This understanding was retested and retried in every “extension”—every new context of application. The gradual cumulative result was a growing intelligence that tended toward an increasingly general understanding of the applicability of the well-balanced performative template. It is this extending of continuously experimental, relationship-oriented meaning and the generalizing (as opposed to differentiating or mimetic) activity it enabled that Bateson foregrounded in his 1949 arguments about Balinese culture. In pragmatic semiotic terms, it would be categorized as term-relational abductive symbolism.28 Such processes are cumulative and self-critical in precisely the idea-applying way Bateson found to be the case with Balinese bodily performance.
The Mead/Bateson theory thus attributed quasi-logical status to Balinese bodily performance, observing such symbolism at play throughout the whole of Balinese life. However outmoded the idea of a template for “a culture” may seem today, the observation of such a symbolic phenomenon as inhering in and originating from bodily practice remains a highly significant analytical step from the standpoint of performance theory. To mention three consequences of this analytic step: First, it undermines the assumption, currently dominating poststructural theories of performance, that symbolic forms of human action, particularly dance, are basically ephemeral and transient in character, refuting the theory that choreographic meaning is fundamentally irrecuperable, impermanent, and concerned only with “the presence of absence” (Lepecki 2004). Second, it challenges the assumption, currently central to deconstructive theories of performance, that embodied performance is “writing's absolute other” (Jacques Derrida, cited in Franko 1995), rejecting the line in the sand typically drawn between verbal and nonverbal symbolic genres. Third, the theory challenges the universal significance of the trope of the body as a container for accumulating unconscious or nonconscious experience. This was, ironically, an important trope in Bateson's own work, as he tended to conceive of the body as a reservoir for holding vast amounts of experience that had sunk beneath conscious awareness. The grace of the classically trained Balinese dancing body in performance evidenced for Bateson the information-accumulating capability of the body (Bateson 1972, 128–52). Despite this bias, however, Bateson's theory of performance did not categorically reject the possibility of performers consciously drawing on corporeal knowledge, or of engaging embodied intelligence intentionally in other contexts. In this respect, Bateson left the door open for a very different conceptualization of the body, particularly with respect to the claim that “ideas” evident in its movement processes could be “generalized.” No other ethnographic research in the anthropology of performance, until quite recently, has made such a case for the significance of choreographic forms of human performance.
The Place of Bali
Turning, now, to the question of how Balinese life enabled or even predetermined the particular form Mead and Bateson's arguments eventually took, it seems likely, when the kinds of bodily practice in which they were immersed are examined, that Balinese performance may well have been as significant in their work as was their antiverbal methodology. The place of Bali, in other words, may well deserve as much, if not more, of the credit for Mead and Bateson's “quantum leap,” as do their cameras. A few possibilities, framed comparatively, that draw upon the more technically elaborate genres of Balinese ritual performance, suggest themselves.29
First, traditional styles of Balinese dance are markedly less invested in iconic gesturing than are other comparable Hindu-based performance traditions. In the mudra (hand gesture) tradition of the Indian Bharata Natyam, for example—which many would argue is the quintessential example of a Hindu-based performance tradition30—a conventional, highly developed gestural vocabulary of iconic signs is often drawn upon to create likenesses to environmental referents such as flutes, swords, lotus blossoms, the sun and moon, mountains, and rivers.31 While not all Bharata Natyam choreographies employ iconic gestures, the capability to depict key elements from Hindu texts is a highly elaborated aspect of the tradition.
Balinese ritual traditions, in contrast, though they exhibit some similarities in gestural style to Bharata Natyam and other Hindu-based choreographic traditions, are relatively free of iconic signification. While dances often enact narratives of the Ramayana epic, they do not tend to act out these narratives gesturally in a line-by-line or verse-by-verse manner, as can be the case in Bharata Natyam and other Indian classical forms.32 No elaborate code of iconic gestures is drawn upon in the enactment of Balinese dance dramas. A conventional array of iconic mudras does exist,33 and it is utilized particularly in the virtuoso legong and baris genres.34 However, Balinese mudras are most often used as a kind of decorative ornamentation accompanying larger body movements. The tradition tends to use gestures that, while stylistically precise, are relatively muted with regard to specific depictive functions.
The presence of an elaborate gestural repertoire that was not employed in predominantly iconic ways gave Mead and Bateson a particularly helpful case in point to move beyond iconic theories of choreographic symbolism. The Balinese context simply would not allow such theories to be judged as adequate for interpreting the entire array of motivations and functions of gestural performance. The behavior that Mead and Bateson had attuned themselves to at such a fine level was obviously patterned carefully, complexly, and articulately for some other reason than to act as a set of pantomimic signals. The fact that Mead and Bateson had deliberately eschewed an interpretive perspective that would have cast symbolic action as “derived” or “degraded” iconic survivals of South Asian traditions factored critically into their understanding at this point. They did not prematurely end their analysis by grasping at such an explanation, something they might otherwise have been strongly inclined to do.
Second, Balinese ritual performance traditions are among the most complexly rule-governed, technically advanced choreographic traditions of Southeast Asia. They have been classified under the global category of “classical” performance—a fact of which Mead and Bateson were, if anything, too well aware. They are comparable in technical complexity and institutionalization of training processes to the court traditions of India, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia, not to mention those of London and New York. They differ markedly, in this respect, from the majority of insular Southeast Asian and, significantly, Melanesian choreographic traditions as well.35 Mead and Bateson, prone to seek comparisons between Balinese and New Guinea practices, were primed to be struck forcefully by the relatively elaborate system of rules that governed Balinese bodily performance, and governed it primarily in relation to seemingly arbitrary notions of style or “permissible” behavior.
In this regard, the choreographic practices of Balinese performance present a coherent, systematic, convention-rich style of body movement constituted by a relatively large array of explicitly recognized design principles. Its technique is based on general assumptions about bodily coordination, dynamic phrasing, and spatial orientation that have numerous applications across a wide field of performance genres and events. Such principles, for example, inform the way a performer learns the valued manners of flexing and hyperextending joints so as to create the curvilinear forms considered beautiful throughout the whole spectrum of Balinese performance events. They inform the manner in which a performer learns to work with gravity so as to convey the grounded yet elegantly undulating sense of dadi, or “allowedness” that governs locomotion in virtually every instance of choreographic performance. They inform the performer's manner of investing energy through various proprioceptive meridians with extremely sudden variations to produce the vibratory fluctuations of gesture that are, perhaps, the most distinctive dynamic feature of the Balinese choreographic style. These tenets of technique, numerous and complexly interrelated, might be considered “generalizables” in the manner Bateson suggested for the particular principle he identified. While they have not been codified verbally in any fixed, textual tradition, they are nonetheless easily recognizable to informed participants. Their presence or absence can be immediately registered as establishing the degree of expertise accorded to a given performer. They are embodied through repetitive training—practices on which Bateson and Mead focused intensively. They inscribe in those who master them a common sense of applicability to performance, broadly experienced.
It was, in this regard, a relatively small and obvious step for Bateson and Mead to hypothesize that one such design principle, exhibiting such a classical degree of articulateness as it did, might have the capability for application beyond the specific domain of choreographic practice into non–corporeally oriented domains of cultural life. Had they not been in a place where performance practices were so rich in conventional technical intelligence (and had they not been led to focus on it by their expatriate community), such an identification of demonstrably applicable performative principles might have been far more difficult, if not impossible. Bali, in this respect, was one of a relatively small number of places in insular Southeast Asia where Bateson and Mead might have been able to reach their theoretical highpoint.
Third, and, perhaps, most critical with regard to Bali's instrumental value, Balinese ritual is among the most complex dance traditions in the world with regard to the isolation and active use of bodily segmentations or “body parts.” The importance of this distinctive design feature cannot be overstated. The Balinese classical style can mobilize and coordinate in simultaneous isolation more than twenty different segmentations of the dancer's body in a single, momentary action phrase. It generally requires at least five degrees of isolation in each arm alone, dividing the upper limbs into a small army of (ideally harmoniously) interacting members. This elaborately differentiated style of bodily organization produces a “multisited/vocal” patterning of activity within the person of the performer. Each segment that initiates movement independently from every other becomes a locus of expression or “place” that defines in its animation the body of the performer. The Balinese style in this way contains principles of technique that foreground the coordination of a corporeal universe of different places of movement, all of which can be granted agency or “voice” simultaneously.
In this regard, Balinese dance requires a relatively high degree of relationship managing over the performer's bodily “landscape.” Relationships between the places of the head, weight center, and feet must be synchronized in order for the performer to be able to walk, remain standing, and change level. Relationships between the eyes, jaw, thumb and fingers, palms, elbows, and shoulders must be continuously monitored and adjusted in order to perform gestures in the “permissible” manner. Balinese dancing, in this respect, can be experienced (although this is more likely to be a novice's or observer's experience) as the systemic hierarchic management of relationships. It entails “pushing this (arm segment) up,” while “pressing that (wrist area) down,” while at the same time “lifting this (shoulder area) up,” while “flexing that (knee area),” while “bending that (ankle area),” while “spreading this (finger areas),” while “tilting that (head area),” while “holding this (chest area),” and so on. This dance of “whiling” enables an intensification of energies sent simultaneously into different areas of the performer and necessitates a continuous reassessment of the exertions themselves relative to one another.36
In sum, each of the relationships brought to life in the organization of the performer's movement in traditional Balinese performance must be maintained in relationship to every other in order for the entire constellation to move in the manner Bateson characterized as “balanced.” Moreover, in any given performance, the relationships that will require special attention and modification are never entirely known, given the changing contingencies of every performance context. The entire process of relationship maintenance that the classical Balinese training process instills cannot become completely unavailable to participants’ conscious awareness, even as the level of mastery increases to the point where un-self-conscious habits of action might govern a performer's movement to a very great extent.
This multisited, nonautomatic, always experimental technique of “relationship-ing” body parts is what Bateson identified as “motion” in his 1949 argument. The spectacular plurality of initiations/actions distinctive of Balinese classical dance, and the extreme emphasis on coordination of bodily places/agents that it displays, enabled Bateson to come to an awareness of relational symbolism inhering in performance practices initially, and eventually in physical practices more generally. The Balinese classical style foregrounds and amplifies this type of relational symbolism, and does so without the masking effect that an elaborate tradition of iconic signification might have produced.
The combined presence of these distinctive features of Balinese traditional performance, and the manner of investigating them that Mead and Bateson were enabled on site to pursue, made Bali an instrumental place for their study of human bodily performance. Only in Bali would they have witnessed the multisited, arbitrarily articulate, technically codified performances that made their observational efforts bear such extraordinary fruit. The place of Bali, the cultural reality that was not preconceived but actually encountered, made a critical difference, in this analytic regard, in their collaborative research process.
Despite the theoretical significance of the “new level” of understanding Mead and Bateson achieved, the impact of their insight into choreographic symbolism has been and remains virtually nonexistent—in anthropology, in performance studies, or in Asian studies. Scholars of anthropological history and theory assessing the Mead/Bateson collaboration have viewed its interpretive, analytical dimensions as having made only a marginal contribution to any area of cultural anthropological thought. Anna Grimshaw (2001, 88), for example, who has evaluated what may be viewed as the collaboration's most consequential dimension, its contribution to visual anthropology, notes that, even in this regard, the “potential” of the work was never fully realized. With regard to the study of performance, recognition has yet to be gained within performance studies that Mead and Bateson could in any sense be considered forerunners of recent trends in that field.37 In Mead's own estimation, the theory and method introduced in Balinese Character constituted “a challenge that no one took up” (1972, 235). The entire project appears to have been largely lost in the turmoil of World War II (Bowman-Kruhm 2003, 72). By the time a postwar focus was resumed on ethnographic work by the anthropological mainstream, the culture and personality orientation Mead and Bateson had adopted was deemed invalid.38 All other interpretive or analytical dimensions of the research were evidently deemed untenable by association as well.
Southeast Asianists, for their part (Boon 1977; Jensen and Suryani 1992; Sullivan 2004) have repeatedly noted that Mead and Bateson's findings on Balinese culture appear to have spoken far more to the British- and American-based theoretical frameworks they brought with them than to the actualities of the Balinese cultural reality they encountered. The relatively short period of time in which Mead and Bateson worked in Bali before announcing their “findings” and their relatively limited knowledge of Balinese history, religion, and literature all point to the conclusion that they came to Bali with a prefabricated theoretical agenda that ruled too strongly over their investigative process. The only lasting legacy of the Mead/Bateson collaboration, from areally sensitive perspectives, is argued to have been its methodological innovation. In that regard, only the extensive use of film and photography is typically recognized.39
Yet, while the legacy of the Mead/Bateson collaboration for the study of performance remains almost completely unactualized, it nonetheless retains a tantalizing vitality, as does the place of Bali in which it is grounded. With regard to the study of choreographic symbolism, the forms of symbolic analysis Mead and Bateson's work inadvertently prefigured have not lost their potential to contribute significantly to contemporary research. The pathbreaking potential of the approach, rather than diminishing with the passing of time, has, in fact, gained strength in light of current trends in the study of human performance. These have come to emphasize more than ever the importance of relationships performance practices maintain with the places they come to define, particularly their political and economic aspects. The type of generalizable intelligence Mead and Bateson recognized as inherent in the technical principles of Balinese choreographic performance, and which they observed operating in local networks, continues to merit exploration, as it can now be seen to circulate through analogous networks at national, transnational, and global sites of emplacement. The applicability of the kind of symbolism Mead and Bateson identified to contemporary life, and the interplay given applications may now be seen to develop with other symbolic forms and processes migrating through the shifting ethnoscapes (Appadurai 1991) that increasingly constitute places in the present time, remains a valid topic of investigation. Place still matters, even in an era and region that is defined increasingly by mobility. It might well be argued that place matters more than ever, and any understanding of place will necessarily entail the close observation of such “corporeal metaphors” as Bateson observed and the place-specific wisdom they embody.
Moreover, scholars in performance studies developing this type of symbolic analysis have themselves yet to turn to performance practices and traditions based in Asia. Mead and Bateson's study remains the only one to date to address the symbolism of an Asian performance tradition in this general theoretical light. The explanatory power the approach might hold, in this regard, for the comparative analysis of other Asian performance traditions and the places they have defined throughout the region is considerable. One wonders, for example, what kind of technical “templates” might be inherent in the numerous other Asian performance genres that also have been categorized as “classical,” what senses of place they have cultivated, and what histories of application they may have had. Bali may not have been unique with regard to the cultural breadth of applicability of its performative intelligence. One wonders as well if the classical traditions of Asia share any generalizable intelligence among themselves, and, if so, how it might be observed to circulate. In addition, a potentially vast area of research awaits pursuit with regard to the innumerable performance traditions practiced throughout Asia that fall outside the bounds of “the classical.” The kinds of rule-governance operative in these genres, the generalizable intelligence they embody, and their capacities for nonaffective extension—in sum, their contributions to various senses of contemporary place—remain to be articulated. These lines of inquiry lead in directions that seemingly would be of central interest not only to performance studies scholars, but also to scholars of contemporary Asian culture and society more generally. The place of Bali, amenable as it was in pioneering such an approach, might again serve as an illustrative model in the pursuit of such contemporary research questions.
It is in these regards that Mead and Bateson's lost legacy and the place of Bali that enabled it continues to hold its value, for anthropological and performance studies research as well as for work in Asian studies. The potential of the Balinese collaboration to lead the way into new dimensions of interpretive work on Asian choreographic symbolism remains alive. As long as the human capacities for place making and intelligence testing remain active, this would seem to be the case for some time to come.
This research was made possible in part by a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Grateful acknowledgment is also due to Henk Maier and Ken George for their comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this manuscript. I am also indebted to Won-Sun Choi, Danielle Robinson, Justine Lemos, and Maria Talamantes for having generously shared with me their research expertise on various topics discussed in the essay.
Understood as a subset of the entire range of symbolic action, “choreographic” characterizes performative practice that simultaneously meets three general criteria: (1) It requires sustained and repetitive technical practice (theatrical “rehearsal”); (2) it employs corporeal involvement as an essential and foregrounded feature of experience; and (3) it derives significance primarily from its motility—its drive to move.
For examples of recent work along these lines, see Mark Franko (2007) and Carrie Noland and Sally Ann Ness (2008).
See Bateson's comments in David Lipset (1982, 144–45). See also Mary Bowman-Kruhm (2003, 64, 71), Lipset (1982, 101–48), and George W. Stocking, Jr. (1995, 430), on Bateson's training.
Accounts of Mead's training can be found in Bowman-Kruhm (2003, 15–44) and Lipset (1982, 136–38). See also Mead's account (1972, 116–34, 209).
Bowman-Kruhm (2003, 31–70), Jane Howard (1984), and Mead (1972, 137–207) all provide detailed summaries of Mead's professional activities prior to her work in Bali.
Howard (1984, 182) provides the most detailed discussion of the Mead–Belo relationship. The understanding of trance as a “dissociative” behavior came from Belo.
Regarding the Balinese dancers performing at the Paris Exposition, see John Coast (2004). Coast documents as well the first Balinese dance performance in the United States in 1952.
See Peter Bloom and Katherine J. Hagedorn (2004) on the making of Bali travelogues and their circulation.
Concerning the influence of Benedict's manuscript on the Mead/Bateson collaboration, see Bowman-Kruhm (2003, 66–67), Dolores Janiewski (2004, 7), Gerald Sullivan (1999, 21; 2004, 101), Mead (1972, 217), and Lipset (1982, 137–38). Sullivan (2004), in particular, argues that the “fey” type Mead and Bateson developed for Bali governed their entire field research process, turning it into a search to substantiate the empirical existence of this type in Bali. Howard (1984, 189–90), however, attributes Benedict's influence on the Mead/Bateson project in Bali as coming mainly from a 1934 essay, “Anthropology and the Abnormal,” which Mead and Bateson would have had access to while planning their research proposal for Bali, after their return from New Guinea.
See Bowman-Kruhm (2003, 72–73) for a chronicle of Mead and Bateson's activities during 1938 and 1939. Bowman-Kruhm notes that the exact period of time spent in New Guinea is open to question, citing conflicting reports in Mead (1972, 261) and Ira Jacknis (1988, 162). Lipset (1982, 155) provides an example of Bateson's comparative perspective on the Balinese and the Iatmul.
See also Mead's comments in Blackberry Winter (1972, 214).
Mead and Bateson's theory that embodied conduct could ever be, even in the case of preverbal human experience, entirely unmediated by language, has been largely rejected in favor of theories positing evolving, continually reintegrating relationships between bodily and verbal forms of awareness, learning, and understanding. Nonetheless, Mead and Bateson's interest in using embodied experience, rather than linguistic symbolism, as a starting point from which to enter into an investigation of the relationships between embodied experience and cultural practice remains valid in contemporary performance studies (see, e.g., Hahn 2007; Sklar 2001).
Mead's September 1, 1937, letter from Bali, for example, reports, “in a three-day visit [to Bajoeng Gedé] we took some 600 photographs, developed 1,500 photographs, covered three major ceremonies, photographed fifteen babies to record their present state and cured most of the same babies of bad eye trouble, scabies, or dysentery” (1977, 204). See also Mead (1972, 235).
The contemporary spelling is used for all Balinese locations. Mead and Bateson used Dutch colonial orthography (Bajoeng Gedé), standard at the time.
Bateson's film shooting is documented in Sullivan (1999, 5–6, 11, 15), Bowman-Kruhm (2003, 71), Jacknis (1988, 162), and Lipset (1982, 157). See Mead (1972, 234–36) for her own account of the unexpected increase in film recording activity, which necessitated additional supplies and equipment being ordered and purchased from Bali. Most of this film material, housed at the Library of Congress, remains unanalyzed, with the significant exception of Sullivan (1999). Sullivan reports that “to this day there is neither a complete set of contact prints nor an even reasonably complete set of positive prints” (1999, 18). He notes that some documents put the number of photographs closer to 28,000 (1999, 191 n. 3).
Jacknis (1988, 161) also describes the research as “vast” in scale. See also Howard (1984, 192) and Mead (1972, 235).
Film elicitation uses film footage as a basis for engaging subjects in interviews. Mead was assisted by Balinese-speaking assistants in conducting such interviews. Mead studied Balinese with Bateson, both while en route to Bali and during the time spent on the island. It is clear from all accounts that she had some rudimentary knowledge of Balinese, although Bateson was evidently more skilled in the language.
Bowman-Kruhm (2003, 71), Mead (1972, 231), and especially Sullivan (1999) describe Mead's technique of synchronized filming and notation. Sullivan (1999, 10–11), Jacknis (1988, 162–65), and Lipset (1982, 152) describe the division of labor. Lipset notes that Mead again played a dominant role in deciding how the work would be organized.
Howard, similarly, cites a letter by Mead in which she describes “a new and interesting type of fatigue” that was “definitely associated with this very concentrated looking sometimes for 4–5 hours without stopping, at confused and colorful crowds” (1984, 192).
Sullivan, for example, states that the increase in photographic activity was “primarily methodological … not primarily a theoretical transition,” and that it did not “seem to have stimulated Bateson and Mead's thinking while they were in the field” (1999, 15–16; see also Jacknis 1988, 163–73).
The formal argument made for this observation is given in Bateson and Mead (1942, xiv), although in this version, Bateson and Mead also emphasize that “no single concrete statement about Bali is true of all of Bali” given the differences between districts and villages.
Jacknis (1988, 172), citing a lecture by Hildred Geertz (1983), reports that Mead and Bateson came to a specific awareness of a Balinese style of cultural patterning on July 31, 1936, and spent the rest of their research period attempting to document this hypothetical style. Sullivan concurs (2004, 203), as do Gordon D. Jensen and Luh Ketut Suryani (1992, 45–47), citing Victor Barnouw's critique (1985, 123). James Boon (1977, 67) argues that Mead (1970) fell into the “ethnological pitfall” of accepting a priori “the fallacy of inbuilt harmony, perfect integration, [and] super systemics,” which her work with Bateson then documented.
After finishing their field research, Mead and Bateson returned to New York. Although their work was repeatedly interrupted by World War II, they continued to analyze and write on Balinese culture together from 1939 until 1942—the year that marked the dissolution of their partnership (Bowman-Kruhm 2003, 84; Howard 1984, 243–69; Lipset 1982, 163, 175) and the publication of the only coauthored work, Balinese Character; A Photographic Analysis. This text presented the collaboration's main theoretical argument, written by Mead, for the presence of a coherent cultural character running through the whole of Balinese life, and provided a selection of several hundred photographs that sought to visually substantiate this claim. Bateson went on to publish alone key essays on the Balinese collaboration in 1944, 1946, 1949, and 1967, while Mead subsequently published an additional photographic study in 1951 and a series of six additional films (Jacknis 1988). Discussion of the Balinese fieldwork also appeared in a number of articles focused on related topics as well (Mead 1949, 1956, 1963, 1970).
The comment about the tightrope walker being “afraid” is puzzling. Fear is not generally foregrounded in the documentation of master performers’ experiences of such acts, although it is an emotion that tends to manifest in spectators. Bateson appears to be betraying the limits of his understanding of such performances in this aside, as well as the influence of Mead's psychoanalytical approach. In any case, the focus on fear is absent from the subsequent analysis and does not play a role in Bateson's main argument.
Mead, however, in her introduction to Balinese Character (1942, 48), concluded with a similar claim. “[Balinese] life,” she wrote, “is a rhythmic, patterned unreality of pleasant, significant movement, centered in one's own body to which all emotion long ago withdrew.” While Mead's emphasis was on the emotional, as opposed to the relational, she, too, recognized the centrality of bodily conduct as an organizing source of cultural patterning.
For influential examples of the iconic orientation, see Michael Taussig (1993) and Paul Stoller (1995). For a particularly explicit example, see J. Lowell Lewis (1992). With regard to indexical approaches, Jean Comaroff (1985) is an outstanding example. See also Margaret Thompson Drewal (1992), Roy A. Rappaport (1979) and Stanley J. Tambiah (1979, 113–69).
Abductive/symbolic semiotic processes are defined by their ability to establish experimental, generalizing meanings within a changing community of users and conditions. See Ness (2007, 2008) for further discussion.
The observations of Balinese dance presented here are drawn mainly from personal study, which has taken place intermittently since 1990 in Southern California and, on a few occasions, in Bali (Ness 1996). See I Wayan Dibya and Rucina Ballinger (2004) and I Made Bandem and Fredrik Eugene deBoer (1995) for comprehensive introductions to Balinese dance traditions. Detailed observations from Bateson and Mead's colleagues can be found in Jane Belo (1970). For visual examples, see the JVC Video Anthology of World Music and Dance (1988).
The claim that Bharata Natyam deserves “quintessential” status, is, of course, controversial. Orrissi, Mohiniyattam, and Kathakali classical dance forms, among others, would also exemplify similar comparative contrasts.
For descriptions of the iconic gestural vocabulary of Bharata Natyam, see Manomohan Ghosh (1957), R. M. Hughes (1964), and Sunil Kothari (1979). For a visual example, see the JVC Video Anthology of World Music and Dance (1988). It should be noted that the gestural vocabulary of Bharata Natyam includes signs of an arbitrary/symbolic type as well. However, iconic signs are predominant, although the combined use of these varied types of gesturing makes a simple characterization impossible.
For examples of South Asian dance traditions that employ such narrative techniques, see Kothari (1979), Kapila Vatsyayan (1974), and Leela Venkataraman (2002).
According to Balinese dance artist Maria Talamantes (personal communication, May 24, 2007), Balinese mudras include gestures assigned such specific meanings as “the movement of a deer's antlers,” “opening the curtain,” “going away,” “making supplication,” and “seeking someone.” Conventional mimetic actions also have been established for such actions as kissing and crying. Talamantes suggests that the present degree of codification may be recent, developed by the National Institute for Indonesian Arts in an effort to establish a closer link with India through dance and to claim a Balinese “Hinduistic” identity in contrast to the Islamic/Java-identified nation.
For a glossary of the mudras and their specific meanings in Condong choreography, see Ni Made Wiratini (1991).
The court dance practices of Java and Sumatra are an exception here.
The description here is taken from an account of personal experience documented in Ness (1996, 135). It is not intended to represent the consciousness or experience of performers generally, particularly expert performers. However, it is meant to depict an organizing strategy that is generally observable in traditional Balinese performance and that Mead and Bateson would have been able to observe.
Richard Schechner, one of the founding figures of performance studies, in fact has expressed in public comments (University of California, Santa Cruz, January 2003) strong criticism of Bateson and Mead's research on Bali, characterizing their orientation as ethnocentric to the point of negating completely any insight into Balinese performance.
See Howard (1984, 206). Lipset (1982, 177) also notes that Balinese Character was received with no great interest in American anthropology.
Sullivan (1999) is something of an exception. However, Sullivan's analysis is focused on the photographic materials, and he rejects the idea that Mead's note taking produced anything of consequence theoretically.